Putting It Together: Fitting It in the Theatre

News   Putting It Together: Fitting It in the Theatre
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It's a thankless job with long hours. For the past month, Gene O'Donovan has been spending 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, at work in his capacity as Production Supervisor on the $10 million production of Titanic ($2 Million more than the cost of building the original Titanic).

The amazing thing is, this is not his only show. Currently he is represented in New York by Master Class, Stanley, Young Man From Atlanta, and A Doll's House. In addition to his time spent working on Titanic he must also ensure that his other New York productions, as well as a number of tours, stay on track.

When asked how he would describe his job he says "I'm sort of the guy who greases the wheels. I tell people I'm not the carpenter, I'm not the electrician and I'm not the wardrobe supervisor but I'm the guy who tries to give them the tools to let them do the job and try and find a way to do that that fits within the budget."

One look backstage and you know exactly why the former owner of Hudson Scenic Studios has been putting in so much time. The Lunt-Fontanne is not known for its wing space. You enter backstage, look overhead and you see complete dining tables set with china suspended from the ceiling. Chairs hang from the walls. To the credit of O'Donovan and the show's set designer, Stewart Laing, very little has been created that has had to be thrown out. Only one large piece of scenery and a couple of props were done away with -- far less than many other more simple Broadway shows. And that one case was primarily due to a look that didn't work rather than a space problem. Below the stage are four lifts and one hydraulic piston that raise the Titanic set ultimately to provide a three-tiered set, allowing for the viewing of the bridge, a promenade deck and the engine room as well as enabling the ship to angle giving the impression of the ship sinking.

The show's running crew consists of 8 supervisors (including production carpenter, production electrician and sound operator), 22 stage hands, 13 dressers, 1 wardrobe supervisor, 1 assistant wardrobe supervisor, 3 hair dressers, 1 hair supervisor and 1 assistant hair supervisor.

One of those stage hands happens to be O'Donovan's own son, John. He is the assistant props master on the show. When asked how that works, he says "I don't bother him, he's not my son in the theatre."

O'Donovan has been with the show since January of 1996. He spent the past 14 months working with the scenic designer and director on the concept for the show. By December of 1996 the concept was solidified and work began on the modification of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Accommodating the set of Titanic has required the removal of the original stage to make room for an elevator to re-create the 1912 disaster. The I-beams that supported the original stage floor have been put into storage. These will be welded back in place once the show eventually closes. A large hole has been cut into the ceiling of the theatre just downstage of the proscenium arch to make room for a crow's nest which flies in. When it comes time to load this show out of the theatre O'Donovan anticipates that the theatre will require a month of labor to return it to it's original state.

Raising the Titanic from the bottom of the North Atlantic almost seems less a feat than mounting the musical that bears its name.

-- By Andrew McGibbon

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